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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matters:Facing devastation

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Throughout this violent season of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, many of us have looked on in shock and awe, with prayers on our lips. These have been prayers for the victims and prayers of thanksgiving that we have been spared.

Throughout, I have been reminded of the experience, nearly twenty years ago, endured by my friend, Catherine Wendt, who now lives in Cleghorn. At that time, she and her late husband, Bill, were living in Algona when one of Iowa's fiercest tornadoes swept through that town. I would like to share with you a part of her account which she gave me back then. It is both meaningful and moving.

She began by observing that it might be considered a privilege to go through such a situation as only then does one get a chance to see how kind and loving people really are. Switching to a lighter note, she said, "But the Bible says, He shall give His angels charge over you. And believe me, those angels were busy pushing boards that night!"

Bill was at work at the bituminous plant where he was shift supervisor. Catherine, who had night duty at a nursing home, had laid down on the sofa for a quick nap before dressing for work. Asleep, she had missed the sirens and media warnings. She recalled wakening and noting the clock said 7:10. Realizing something was wrong, she went into the bedroom to close the window. She heard what she thought was hail hitting the house, then the sound of breaking glass, and that was all. Something, presumably a piece of lumber, hit her neck and she must have fallen, stunned, to the floor. Her clock, she was told later, had stopped at 7:13.

Kate's next recollection was of sitting up, freeing herself from debris, and realizing that the roof and walls were all gone. Looking out across the incredible devastation, she recalled, "I've never felt so alone. All was absolute stillness. No wind, no bird sounds, nothing. No one had come up out of their basements yet." She remembered crawling along the floor, too dazed to stand, and seeing her closet sucked completely clear of hanging clothes while her shoes were still neatly on their rack.

In moments, the next-door neighbors came over and helped her to their basement.

Bill, who had witnessed it all from the plant, which was outside the storm's cruel path, rushed home and suffered some anguished moments before discovering where his wife had been taken. When she reached the hospital, the two deep gashes from which she was bleeding profusely, were stitched and she was admitted for observation.

As with all such situations, there were some amazing stories. The furniture on the lower level of their split-level home survived, but they were advised to replace their mattresses because glass shards, fiberglass, etc. were driven into them. On close examination, they found a picture grouping of grandsons, which had been on the bedroom wall, neatly laid between mattress and box springs, with all the glass intact.

Kate's wedding ring, her "Mother's" ring, dress watch, and an opal pendant, which had been in an ash ray in the bedroom, were all found the next day under the carpet of the adjacent bathroom.

Catherine also told that her Bible had been on a bedside stand and her mother's old German Bible had laid open on a table in the living room. Both were found in nearby debris. Her bible now starts along about Genesis 30, but her mother's was entirely intact. I loved her observation that somewhere in those pages it says that "heaven and earth shall pass away but My word shall not pass away." She was convinced that was living proof!

It's not just my friend who is driven to see God's hand at times like this. Have you noticed how, even the most hard-bitten defenders of the absurd so-called "division of church and state," were never able to make an observation on the recent disasters without invoking the name of the Deity? I, personally, am convinced there's a message there!